the story of the Scarlet Egg
It is told, that in a time long ago, among the rock-strewn hills of Greece, a young woman was seen walking to market, carrying a basket of eggs she’d collected. The hems of her skirts were dusty. Her shoulders were stooped, her step was slow and heavy. Her face bore a great sadness. A group of men passing by stopped to ask, with concern, “Why so sad, lady?”
“Have you not heard?” she answered, surprised at their ignorance. “Christ our Lord has died and been buried!”
“Have YOU not heard?!” they asked, amazed.”Christ was buried, but He has risen!”
“Risen? from death? This can’t be! If you speak the truth, may these eggs I carry turn red!” And before her very eyes, they did. Her basket of pearl white eggs had suddenly turned brilliant scarlet. And she, now believing the news she’d been given, exclaimed, “He has risen! Indeed, He has risen!” And she ran home to tell the news.
“Χριστοσ Ανεστο!” (Christos anesti!)
Our father grew up, and married our mother, in the Greek Orthodox Church. Up until the time they married, Easter at our house was overseen by the big Bunny, who, along with whichever of his assistants he called upon, hid the eggs and filled our baskets with jelly beans, chocolates and crayons. We loved it – of course. But when our Dad entered our lives, carrying with him his wonderful Greek traditions and the stories to explain them, suddenly, Easter had a meaning. In Greek culture, traditions around Easter are especially rich. As our Yaya would say to Mom, “Is not so big Jesus was born, Ruth. Is big He rose!” Of all the Saints’ Days and all the other religious holidays they celebrate, without question, Easter is supreme. There’s no holiday more festive, more family-oriented, nor is there one in which the people feast as long, as much and as happily as they do on Greek Easter.
Easter in the Greek Orthodox Church frequently falls on a date different than the one on most calendars, so our family celebrated twice!
Only some of the traditions made their way into our lives, but those traditions have stuck, now into the fourth generation since Yaya. And the Scarlet Egg from the story plays a starring role.
First, let me begin by saying, it’s no small feat to turn a white egg scarlet. You may get a lovely shade of bright pink, but honestly, are we impressed? In a photo below, you’ll see the packet of dye I used this year. I picked it up at the local Greek deli (Foti’s in Portland) where our Dad used to buy the feta and olive oil, and where my brother and I sometimes have lunch. When I left the shop with the packet of dye in hand, the owner wished me good luck! And I knew what he meant. As important as it is that the eggs be red, the real challenge is yet to come!
Each of us kids was taught to examine carefully all the red eggs in the basket, turning them over in our hands, feeling their heft, considering how sharp the one end was and how stalwart the other. This was an important decision we had to make, and we had to take every factor into account. (Our Yaya would get such a gleam in her eyes as she made her final choice! That fleeting glimmer informed us kids how serious, and how seriously fun, this was going to be!)
Eventually, we each had our “winning egg” in hand. And then, one person in the group would challenge another. Each would hold their prize egg securely, snugly, with one end exposed at the top. (We would each go on to develop what we were convinced was a winning grip.) The challenger would strike the other’s egg, proclaiming loudly “Christos Anesti!” (Christ has risen!) – (crack!) – and the immediate response would be, “Alethós Anésti!” (Truly He is risen!)
Now, of course, the shell of only one egg could withstand the impact and the other would have cracked under pressure. The loser now became a spectator and the contest would continue. Eventually someone was victorious over all, and he or she would go on to experience, it is said, good luck for the year. The contest could continue for quite a while, though; even after one end of our egg was dented and cracked, we might display the other end for a second challenge. “Rules” were somewhat flexible and often the little ones would be given a second egg to try again. There would be plenty of opportunities to take life more “seriously” later. But, as it was then…it is now…a beautiful time to celebrate hope, possibility, and new life! Christos Anesti!
~ ~ ~
(Some of you may be interested in a couple points of religious symbolism from the story above: The red was to symbolize the spilled blood of Jesus; the broken egg shell, the tomb from which He emerged. The traditional Easter dinner in the Greek Orthodox Church – and probably other Christian churches as well – is lamb, symbolizing the Lamb of God who sacrificed himself. This latter symbolism had its beginnings in the Jewish Passover tradition.)
NOTE ON DYING EGGS:
You’ll notice above that some of the colored eggs are a bright red, others a deep and dark red. This is what happens when you dye both the white and the brown eggs. Most red dyes, and food coloring as well, won’t impart the red you see above. Greek Easter Egg Dye holds the secret. Wash eggs well, hard boil, then follow the instructions on the dye packet. Allow eggs to dry on a cooling rack, with newspaper spread beneath to catch the drops. If you like, take a cloth with a bit of olive oil to shine the egg all gleam-y once it’s dried.
Stay tuned for an Easter Bread that makes use of a dyed scarlet egg…